Updated regulations for septic tanks

Those of us living in rural areas may well be familiar with the delights of the domestic septic tank. Where mains sewers are not available, properties will have an underground tank where domestic waste water is accumulated, and periodically collected by what was once known as the “honey cart”. There are different systems, ranging from modern electrically powered processing plants, to more traditional systems which have an overflow into the nearest watercourse.

For many years the Environment Agency has been unhappy about these less sophisticated systems. Mainly because they do little to improve water quality, and in 2015 regulations were introduced to make such systems illegal from 1st January 2020. The introduction of these regulations was not well publicised, to say the least and, aside from small articles in some of the country magazines and some advertising by those producing the modern processing systems, many householders have been in blissful ignorance.

Perhaps in recognition of this, the Environment Agency has recently changed their guidance to state:

“If your septic tank discharges directly to a watercourse, you need to do one of the following as soon as possible:

  • connect to mains sewer
  • install a drainage field (also known as an infiltration system) so the septic tank can discharge to ground instead
  • replace your septic tank with a small sewage treatment plant

You must have plans in place to carry out this work within a reasonable timescale, typically 12 months.”

This may have an impact on farm businesses in two ways.

Firstly, one assumes that the Environment Agency might step up their awareness campaign, so businesses might now upgrade their systems. In some cases this will be largely domestic expenditure but in others, where the system also serves business premises, capital allowances claims may be in order if the expenditure is:

“(a) to meet the particular requirements of the qualifying activity, or

(b) To serve particular plant or machinery used for the purposes of the qualifying activity”.

Secondly, those with agricultural land adjacent to domestic housing may find themselves being approached to provide an easement for a drainage field, where householders are looking for a cheap and easy solution.

Commenting on the issue, MHA agriculture partner Keith Porter said “This is one of those situations where legislation has been in place for years, but very few people were aware of the problem. It seems that the Environment Agency has recognised this, and have informally created a “get out” so that they do not need to implement the rules too harshly. I suspect we will see some higher profile announcements, but it might be a good opportunity for those with land in the right place to help out their neighbours and raise some money in the process.”